Conclusion: Reconstructing Liberal Pluralism

  • Katherine Smits

Abstract

It should be clear from the range of liberal responses to the problem of social diversity that, contrary to John Gray’s argument, liberalism does not retreat into a sterile legalism unresponsive to social realities.1 The liberal theorists from the nineteenth century to the present whose work I’ve discussed here have all been concerned in different ways with the relationship between individuals and their social environment. I have explored the various forms in which they have imagined this relationship, the ways in which their ideas have influenced each other, and some of the limitations and internal inconsistencies of their approaches. Pluralities have been cast in terms of interests, values, and (recently) nationalities, but as we have seen, liberals since Mill have failed to recognize that individuals are ascribed to and embedded in a complex range of social groupings that shape and determine not only their ideas and interests, but also their very sense of who they are in both the public and private worlds. It would be wrong to argue that pluralities of value and interest are not in themselves important social facts, but as we have seen, they are insufficient for understanding and responding to the political claims made by theorists of identity. The reasons for liberal theory’s shift away (since Mill) from the recognition of the social construction of identity can, as I have argued here, be explained by two currents in liberal thinking. One of these dates from the origins of liberal theory itself: possessive individualism (though I use the term here more broadly than C.B. Macpherson, who famously coined it in reference to classical liberalism and the possession of material property).2

Keywords

Income Posit Defend Smit Guaran 

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Notes

  1. 2.
    C.B. Macpherson, The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism: Hobbes to Locke (London: Oxford University Press, 1962).Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Steven Lukes, Individualism (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1973), ix.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    Philip Green, “Review Essay on Robert Dahl’s Democracy and Its Critics” in Social Theory and Practice 16, 2 (Summer 1990): 227–8. Green notes in this that “race” appears nowhere in the index to Dahl’s book, and he seems equally oblivious to political claims associated with gender.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 5.
    Joseph Raz, Morality of Freedom (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), 254.Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    Richard Bellamy, “Pluralism, Liberal Constitutionalism and Democracy: A Critique of John Rawls’s (meta) Political Liberalism,” in The Liberal Political Tradition ed. James Meadowcroft (Cheltenham: Edward Elgar, 1996), 85.Google Scholar
  6. 7.
    Nancy L. Rosenblum, Membership and Morals: The Personal Uses of Pluralism in America (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998), 61.Google Scholar
  7. 9.
    George Kateb, “Notes on Pluralism,” Social Research 61, 3 (Fall 1994): 511–37.Google Scholar
  8. 16.
    Iris Marion Young, “Together in Difference: Transforming the Logic of Group Political Conflict,” in The Rights of Minority Cultures ed. Will Kymlicka (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), 165.Google Scholar
  9. 18.
    Nancy Fraser, “From Redistribution to Recognition? Dilemmas of Justice in a ‘Post-Socialist’ Age,” in Theorizing Multiculturalism: A Guide to the Current Debate ed. Cynthia Willett (Oxford: Blackwell, 1998), 26.Google Scholar
  10. 19.
    For a definitive statement of the class instead of race argument, see Richard D. Kahlenberg, The Remedy: Class, Race and Affirmative Action (New York: Basic Books, 1997).Google Scholar
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    Amy Gutmann summarizes and discusses these arguments in “Responding to Racial Injustice,” in Color Conscious: The Political Morality of Race K. Anthony Appiah and Amy Gutmann (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996), 111.Google Scholar
  12. 23.
    See e.g., Richard Rodruigez, Hunger of Memory (New York: Bantam, 1982), 141–73.Google Scholar
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    Anne Philips, “Feminism and the Politics of Difference: Or, Where Have All the Women Gone?” in Visible Women: Essays on Feminist Legal Theory and Political Philosophy ed. Susan James and Stephanie Palmer (Oxford: Hart, 2002), 21.Google Scholar

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© Katherine Smits 2005

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  • Katherine Smits

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